‘We’ll always have Paris’

There are about 130 museums in Paris, including The Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou. Might I add the Museum of Jewish Art and History, (mahJ for short).

August 18, 2019 04:53
A STATUE of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus stands in the courtyard of the Museum of Jewish Art and History in

A STATUE of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus stands in the courtyard of the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris. . (photo credit: LARRY COLBY)

‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man,” Hemingway wrote, “then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.” I don’t think I have to explain to Jerusalem Post readers why one visits Paris, one of the most visited cities in the world, and France itself, the number-one travel destination in the world. As Joseph Roth, the noted Jewish writer, declared: “France possesses mountains, sea, mystery, clarity, nature, art, science, revolution, religion, history, pleasure, grace and tragedy, beauty, wit, satire, enlightenment and reaction.”

There are about 130 museums in Paris, including The Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou. Might I add the Museum of Jewish Art and History, (mahJ for short), housed in one of the most palatial mansions known as the Hotel de Saint-Aignan, and built in the 17th century? The museum, located in the once heavily populated Jewish section, the Marais, focuses on the history of the Jews in France since the Middle Ages and gives special importance to the Jewish presence in the arts, including the painters of the School of Paris (Chagall, Kikoine, Soutine) It also offers up timely, magnificent exhibitions.

Of the two current exhibitions I visited, one pays tribute to a remarkable photographer who joined the French resistance at age 17 and used his knowledge of chemistry to become an expert in forging official documents for the Jewish resistance and then for the French military secret services. He is Adolfo Kaminsky, the brilliant forger who saved 14,000 Jews in World War II.

Kaminsky never made a conscious decision to be a forger. He had no choice. He had to do it to save lives. Forging is a very delicate practice. Imperative for Kaminsky and those he was saving, was that the documents be undetectable. His forgeries were so good that the police never suspected at the time that the forger they were after was nothing but a boy. Fascinated by the story of this man’s experiences, I read his account in a book written by his daughter, Sarah Kaminsky, titled, Adolfo Kaminsky, A Forger’s Life. While prudence was his watchword, he had many narrow escapes from the police. Throughout his life he went by the axiom: “Anything that has been conceived and made by man, can naturally be reproduced by another.”

After World War II, Kaminsky forged documents for Aliyah Bet and worked for both the Hagana and the Stern group. “I was proud,” he wrote in his book, “of having helped to facilitate the illegal immigration of tens of thousands of concentration camp survivors as well as having contributed to the creation of the State of Israel.”

 Afterward, he took up the cause of the FLN in the struggle for Algerian independence from France. He believed “France was sacrificing her children for nothing, for Algeria had been lost.”

Basically, Kaminsky couldn’t stomach what he termed “colonization” of any ilk, so he made documents for Dominicans, Haitians, Brazilians and other revolutionary movements in Europe.

The exhibit runs until December 8.

THE OTHER exhibition I viewed was dedicated to Helena Rubinstein, featuring more than 300 exhibits from her famous collection, such as objects, garments, photographs, etchings, books paintings, sculptures and tapestries. The story of Helena Rubinstein, the woman whom Jean Cocteau dubbed “the empress of beauty,” is told in 300 exhibits from her famous collection.

The Helena Rubinstein exhibit runs until August 25th.

Several of the curators at this outstanding museum expressed the hope that more Israelis would visit the museum, which traces the historical evolution of Jewish communities, including North African Jewry, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Artistically displayed are religious items, textiles, manuscripts and documents depicting Jewish history, including the archives of the Dreyfus Affair. Some of the artists represented here are Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine, Kikoine and other Jewish painters.

Incidentally, mahJ offers summertime guided, English-language tours designed for the whole family in the form of a walking tour of the Marais. For more information on the museum: mahj.org. And for more information on France, including Paris: us.france.fr/en.

HAVING WORKED in, and visited Paris numerous times, I might add cuisine to one of the main factors that make Paris probably one of the most popular destinations in the world. Foodies know, “You never get a bad meal in France.” For those who say, “Been there, done that,” try this suggested activity in the French capital.

How about a walking food tour in Paris, especially one tasting lots of food in a culinary experience that includes walking, observing Parisian architecture and learning about a wonderful neighborhood, the 10th arrondissement, away from the magnetic Champs Élysées? I speak of “Eating Europe,” founded in Rome by an American native Kenny Dunn, and focusing on real food and real people. And that real food includes staple foods of French cuisine, like rare cheeses, and gorgeous pastries, and lots of walking, we stopped at seven hip places to eat.

One memorable stop was at Paroles De Fromagers, (The Voice of Cheesemakers) a 17th-century cheese cellar, at 41 Rue du Faubourg. Truly a fantastic cheese and wine tasting event. North African cuisine is a large part of the food scene in Paris. The couscous and shashuka at L’amalgame, at 12 Rue Bichat, reminded me of journalism work covering the exodus of French Jews from Algeria. On the food sojourn, the guide served up historical anecdotes. If you are a curious traveler, this tour – which by the way is offered in such cities as London, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Prague and Florence – is for you. Info at: eatingeurope.com.

It’s a rainy night, one of those Parisian downpours, when we enter the kosher restaurant, L’As du Fellafel, 34 Rue des Rosiers, the famous street in the Marais section of Paris, once an overwhelming Jewish neighborhood, not far from the Jewish museum mentioned above. It has been said that a restaurant is a good eating place if it’s crowded. The night I am there it’s packed, despite the rain clouds bursting outside. To use an American term, “The place is jumping,” with animated conversation among diners from all over the world: Americans, Israelis, Indians, as well as Parisians. Not just falafel or shawarma is served up, but “medaillon de Poulet grille,” (parguit) that is, as well as skewers of chicken, kebab and sausage.

 It is true that there has been some slight decline in the number of kosher restaurants in Paris. But don’t worry, there are still more kosher establishments in the French capital than New York, Chicago and Los Angeles combined.

 The rain has stopped and walking through the narrow streets of the Marais, also known as the Pletzel, especially along the Rue des Rosiers and the Rue Pavee. I thought of the neighborhood as it once was, full of Jewish life resounding in the sweep of history. Less of a Jewish presence is here today. Neighborhoods do change. Yet, I was proud that there is a Jewish Museum to tell that story.

I stayed a week in Paris. As I learned long ago in my travels, the place one stays in for a week is likely to be the place one remembers. But then again, how can anyone ever forget Paris?

The writer is the author of the just-published Klara’s War, a story of danger, separation and love depicted in a historical World War II novel, and part of the Klara Trilogy, the sequel to Klara’s Journey. Follow him on Twitter @bengfrank. Bengfrank.blogspot.com.

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